PVV – porn does a (social) body good… at least according to the University of Cambridge

I don’t know much about debating (I ran track in high school… or I just ditched) outside of it being really difficult to do correctly – people practice and practice and PRACTICE the craft.

I also know next to pretty nothing about the University of Cambridge… except that it’s like 800 years old (seriously), very well-respected, and in England (read: cold).

So, last fall, when I heard that a “porn debate” was going to be held at Cambridge in February, I knew enough to know it was going to be an important, significant event… but how important and significant exactly required a little bit of investigating.

The Cambridge Union Society, or The Union as it’s often referred, was founded in 1815 and has hosted debates amongst and between great figures of (English) national and international importance (full history here). Every “term” (read: semester or quarter), the Union hosts a wide range of social events, speakers, and debates. Topics up for debate range from war in Iran to faith in the media/press, among many others (current term’s schedule here).

And on Thursday, February 17, 2011, The Union hosted a debate that explored this statement/question: “This house believes pornography does a good public service.” The debaters, as they were described by The Union, included:

“PROPOSITION [in support of the aforementioned statement]

JOHNNY ANGLAIS (aka Jonny Cockfill) is a hardcore porn star. He also used to teach Politics and PSHE at an Essex secondary school, but was forced to quit his teaching role after the students found out about his second job. Following his resignation he said he had ‘no regrets’ and is ‘proud’ of his work as a stripper and porn actor.

ANNA SPAN – real name Anna Arrowsmith – is one of the porn industry’s best-known film directors and became the UK’s first ever female porn director in 1999. Since then she has made over 250 films and won numerous awards for her work. She unsuccessfully stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate for parliament in May 2010.

JESSI FISCHER, nicknamed the ‘sexademic’ for her focus on cultural analysis and sexual biology, is a writer, public speaker and sex educator for high schools and universities in the US. She is a fundraising organiser for San Francisco Sex Information.

OPPOSITION [against the aforementioned statement]

SHELLEY LUBBEN is a former porn actress and stripper who is now an ordained chaplain. She featured in around 30 porn films before quitting the industry to begin campaigning vigorously against pornography. Lubben is now executive director of the Pink Cross Foundation, aimed at helping porn stars, prostitutes and people addicted to porn.

DR GAIL DINES is a lecturer, author and feminist activist, whose work focuses on pornography, sexualisation and the effect that these can have on society. Dines is a founding member of the group Stop Porn Culture which is fighting to end sexual exploitation and what it claims is the increasing sexualisation of pop culture.

DR RICHARD WOOLFSON is a child psychologist and expert on child and family development. A fellow of the British Psychological Society, he has published numerous books including ‘How to Have a Happy Child’ and claims that pornography has a proven negative influence on children and adolescents.” (sic – the English spell stuff way different. I added in the links)

Right off, I didn’t get the teams – two PhD-level scholar sorts and a former adult performer (many years removed) versus an adult content producer, a sex educator, and a sex performer/vilified former teacher? The comparative part of my brain told me that these teams were not even remotely matched… but why not?

Was it because, as the question reads, it was up to “Team Opposition” to change The Union’s mind, while “Team Proposition” had only to defend its position? Doctoral level scholars (Dines and Woolfson) are supposedly trained and well-practiced in making clear, substantiated arguments, so maybe the debate organizers felt they needed to add some fire power to the team facing the more difficult task?

Or maybe the organizers wanted real live members of the adult industry (Span and Anglais) to tell it how it is – all theoretical ideologies and anecdotes of an ex-whatever aside, maybe insights gleaned from the lived experiences of a small sampling of industry insiders seemed useful? I’ve heard that English folks find practical things like that useful.

But like I said, I know next to nothing about debating. I know even less about debate team selection.

Anyway, the debate itself was reportedly an epic failure for Team Opposition, with Gail Dines angrily spouting decades-old arguments and Shelley Lubben just kind of embarrassing herself (by all accounts I have read except for her own, she was completely unprepared for the debate).

Quite the opposite, Team Proposition presented well-crafted arguments and substantiated points; and they even took questions/comments from the audience during their respective turns, winning the debate 231 to 187 (with 197 abstentions).

I wish wish WISH I could’ve watched this whole thing go down, and now I wish wish WISH there was some audio or video available. I would like to make my own assessment of exactly how earth shattering this event was. Regardless, porn “won” – according to a pretty big deal culturally significant space in the UK, “…pornography does a good public service.” Huzzah!!

…but that pesky little feminist academic inside me is somewhat unsettled. Although I’m certainly glad that Team Proposition was able to shut down Team Opposition, I find myself slightly uncomfortable with any broad sweeping assertion or decision. Porn either does, or does not, do a good public service? Nothing in life is ever so decidedly either/or, especially not something as complex as adult.

If I had to choose one or the other (good or not so much), I’m with Team Proposition one hundred percent… except that I don’t know how I feel about one hundred percent of anything all of the time.

Maybe it’s just me being excessively cautious, but I think you should read up on this further and make your own assessment bebes. Here are links to some recaps of what went down (to my knowledge, neither Dines nor Woolfson have issued any commentary or statements) and some additional commentary I found interesting– what do you think?

Recapitulations

Jessi Fischer’s take here.

Anna Span’s take here.

Shelley Lubben’s take here.

Johnny Anglais’ take here.

…and some other interesting stuff

Commentary from AVN‘s Tom Hymes here.

A brief piece from BBC with audio from Anna Span and Gail Dines here.

Anthony Kennerson discusses Shelley Lubben and Gail Dines.

* * *
Questions? Comments? Email me!!

If you luv PVV, why not enter this month’s Screener Surprise? Fight piracy, get porn!!

You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage/PVVOnline, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.PVVOnline.com).”

Porn Valley Vantage – Critical Commentary on Adult Production

Like what you see? Follow PVV on Facebook and Twitter!